Our Views: Never forget soldiers' sacrifices

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

It was fitting that VetsRoll took 200 aging veterans and “Rosie the Riveters” last week to see our nation's war monuments in Washington, D.C.

After all, Monday marks Memorial Day. It's set aside to honor soldiers who did not survive.

Mark and John Finnegan of Finnegans' RV Center in South Beloit launched VetsRoll five years ago as a way to thank veterans for their service. Many generous supporters make these trips possible. For many veterans, these trips are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see the war memorials and pay homage to fallen comrades.

These veterans view the massive World War II memorial, which includes 56 pillars and two triumphal arches, surrounding a plaza and fountain. Located on the National Mall, it opened 10 years ago this month and honors the 16 million who served in the U.S. and more than 400,000 who died. VetsRoll soldiers visited the Korean War monument, which includes 19 statues spread across a triangular field, representing a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces. VetsRoll also viewed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which names more than 58,000 Americans who died.

Anyone fortunate enough to visit Washington should make these monuments a centerpiece of the trip.

The VetsRoll contingent arrived home late Wednesday night to a fitting hero's welcome. Sirens wailed, and fire engine lights flashed as more than 100 motorcyclists led a motorcade. The buses passed well-wishers young and old lining Beloit's Riverside Drive, waving flags and raising homemade banners. Fireworks erupted. Relatives and supporters crowded the Eclipse Center, where a female trio saluted vets with period songs.

Korean War survivors made up most veterans on this trip. Most surviving WWII vets either went in years past or, now in their 90s, are too frail to make the journey.

That's what Americans should remember most this weekend. If you know a WWII veteran, don't wait to thank him or her. Our nation loses more of the “Greatest Generation” each day. Korean veterans are aging, too. The last of our nation's World War I veterans, Frank W. Buckles, died more than three years ago. In the not-so-distant future, the last WWII survivors will join their comrades, those who didn't return home, in the great hereafter.

We can celebrate Memorial Day like we so often do, gathering with friends and relatives to enjoy a picnic, share a laugh or take in a ball game. But pause and consider why we have this extra day off from work. Think about those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Salute a soldier. Fly the flag. Attend a Memorial Day ceremony.

Let us never take for granted our rights and freedoms and the terrible sacrifices so many fellow Americans made for them.

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